Hubert Burda Media

Good Morning, Singapore

Villa Alba might mimic the arc of the rising sun but beyond its distinctive form, it speaks of the importance of harmony in architecture.

Good Morning, Singapore

Just as how the rays of sunlight would twinkle between the leaves of a dense canopy, Villa Alba winks mischievously at you from between the bungalows that line the curved road that is Cove Drive in Sentosa. But it's not because the pair of identical bungalows is brightly lit; rather, their fiery orange-coloured terracotta tiles that make up their roofs are so striking they make the houses unmistakable.
Pull up alongside these twins and what is immediately apparent is how their roofs seem to link the front of the house with the back in a semicircle, almost in a seamless arc. Viewed from the side, the thick band brings to mind the silhouette of the sun on the horizon, which is exactly what multifaceted designer Massimo Mercurio intended it to be.
The creative director of Mercurio Design Lab, who works with a partner architect here, he christened the two bungalows after the Italian word for “sunrise”, favouring it for its positive connotations of new beginnings and hope — an apt symbology, considering it is the studio's first project.
Yet for all the beautiful imagery that surrounds it, Villa Alba's unique form was borne on a more practical note: How to put a different spin on the restrictive regulations imposed by the building authorities on the all-important pitched roof so it complements the architecture and, at the same time, makes the house stand out from others in the country?
After several attempts at the drawing board, the Italian, who has been based here for 20 years and shuttles between here and Italy, arrived at the resultant form: “This simple design gesture of a sunrise on the horizon is quite an unusual solution for the Singapore architectural scene, but is an appropriate theme for the lakefront villa.”
From there, everything on each of the 6,800sq-ft plots “evolved smoothly”, as he likes to put it. “The idea of dawn trickled down into every detail of the house — from outside to in — via the materials , colours and geometries.”
It is perhaps these very reasons that led the project to be lauded at the recent Asia-Pacific Property Awards 2013. Villa Alba was “highly commended” in the categories of Architecture Single Residence Singapore and Interior Design Private Residence Singapore.
A hymn to integration
It is an outrage to cross-reference a patriotic Italian's work to anything French but for the sake of illustration, this cannot be avoided. Villa Alba's structure, if we take that side view again, has a shape that recalls the Céline Trapeze bag, complete with outward slanting curtain walls. Mercurio points out that they are intended to allude to the idea of sunrays.
To complete that imagery, the walls — both exterior and interior of the common areas — are entirely clad in some 7,500-sq-ft of silver and cream-coloured travertine respectively, the pastel tones again reminiscent of morning. Inside, everything from the furnishings to the finishings and the artworks revolve around the sunrise theme, be it in shape or colour.
A chocolate-brown leather sofa from B&B Italia anchors the living room, above which the false ceiling is slightly recessed and covered with an oak veneer. Beige leather-clad dining room chairs, also from B&B Italia, sit around a table designed by Mercurio, where a slab of grey Caesarstone quartz rests atop the thick v-shaped base constructed from travertine.
The dining space is adjacent to the Boffi dry kitchen, while the wet kitchen is kept firmly tucked away in the basement. Yet, both are efficiently connected by a dumbwaiter. Even underground, the theme does not deviate. A media room houses a white Cassina sofa, plush dark brown Paola Lenti carpet, and state-of-the-art entertainment system concealed behind walls plastered with beige fabric coverings.
Up on the second floor, four rooms are laid out along a corridor, their interiors kept to a clean white palette punctuated with furnishings in the colours of dawn such as a saffron-coloured silk curtains and a Ferrari-red bed runner. In the attic, the Kyudo floor lamp from Kundalini dominates the room; its elegant arch harking back to the curve of the sun (and Alba's roof).
The paintings that adorn the walls of the house are curated and commissioned by Mercurio himself through his art consultancy business Metakaos. No surprise then that they are also compositions in hues of rich red, amber and orange, such as the one on the ground floor of a lone sailboat in a sun-dappled bay, and that in the master bedroom of a morning-scape over the water.
Says Mercurio: “This hymn to integration sung within the building walls of one seamless design concept from the architecture to the artworks is my way of calling for a more dedicated effort by developers and designers to push for stronger cultural content in every aspect of their work.”
Pushing the envelope
Beyond the aesthetic merits of Villa Alba, Mercurio has a much deeper philosophy linked to the houses. One of his pet peeves is the cookie-cutter way many projects in Singapore are designed: “Prevailing solutions are very oriented to an excessive utilitarianism that turns architecture into a make-up of layouts and facades, instead of producing a concerted volumetric proposition. Designers too often end up using two-dimensional escamotage to render their work interesting, which is a very diminishing approach in a potentially very creative domain.
“Villa Alba wants to be unchained from this thinking and find its place where good architectural design should be in a world made of volumes. We had a clear intention of finding bold lines at the edge of the boundaries of what is commonly accepted in Singapore and propose new aesthetic solutions that would push the envelope of common taste much further.”
On the flip side, he is equally disapproving of the other end of the spectrum where designers are inclined to a very elaborated style of appearance and excessive decoration is used to prove their client's affluence. To this end, he intentionally kept Villa Alba's spaces clean, leaving the architecture rather than “cosmetic solutions” to take centre stage.
Mercurio explains how this direction sheds light on an even more critical aspect of the project: “A push for an elegant sobriety against the recent trends towards celebrating splurging and the superfluous; excesses that have too often led to an indecorous renaissance of overloaded Baroque shades and lines.”